The temperature we have to work in can greatly affect both our performance and also our health. There are laws which govern the working environment we operate in and if the temperature of the environment falls outside those parameters, then we have to be provided with what is referred to as PPE or personal protection equipment (much of the legislation concerning PPE is based on the requirements of the Health & Safety at Work Act Etc. 1974, and you can find out more about Commodious courses on H&S here or about PPE regulations here.)
It is a very common misconception that there are laws surrounding legal temperatures in the workplace. Put simply, it is a myth. It is true that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have put in place a recommendation that the temperature in an office environment should not fall below 16˚C and that it should not fall below 13oC where strenuous labour is concerned. However, it is only a recommendation and there is no upper temperature limit beyond which you should not be working.
While there is no strict law concerning workplace temperature, every employer has a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their employees. As such, there comes a logical point where it will not be safe to work because the temperature of the environment is either too hot or too cold. While the wellbeing of employees should be a top priority, sensible employers also know that they cannot expect optimum performance from their employees in sub-optimal working conditions. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 lay down particular requirements for most aspects of the working environment. Regulation 7 deals specifically with the temperature in indoor workplaces and states that:
'During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.'
The next logical question is to ask:
One of the reasons there is no definitive answer to this question is that workplace temperatures can vary depending on the nature of the work involved. For example, a storeman working in the freezer section of a supermarket can expect the freezer where frozen goods are stored to operate at -18oC or colder. In a blast furnace environment the working temperature can exceed 100oC and if appropriate PPE is not worn, this can lead to heat stress. The American National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) states that: ”Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments may be at risk of heat stress. Exposure to extreme heat can result in occupational illnesses and injuries. Heat stress can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes. Heat can also increase the risk of injuries in workers as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness.”
According to the Trades Unions Congress (TUC) the following are recommended optimum working temperatures:
In an office, for example, you would think it would not be unreasonable to complain if the temperature exceeded 30oC and 27oC for those who are working in a job that requires regular/constant strenuous exercise. However, you can only complain, you cannot actually make any demands based on any regulations, because there are none. Nonetheless, it is an employer’s responsibility to ensure the welfare of their staff, so in excessive temperatures steps should be taken to mitigate the heat, such as the provision of cool drinking water and floor-standing fans
The HSE defines thermal comfort as “a person's state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold.” As discussed above, there are no regulations in place for minimum and maximum working temperatures, but it has been established that the thermal comfort zone lies between 13oC and 30oC depending on the nature of the work being carried out. At the lower end of the scale are activities of a more physical nature, while more sedentary activities are represented in the higher levels. It should also be noted that the wearing of personal protection equipment can have a dramatic effect on body temperature, despite the ambient temperature of the worker’s surroundings, which can lead to heat stress.
According to the HSE: “Heat stress occurs when the body's means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. As well as air temperature, factors such as work rate, humidity and clothing worn while working may lead to heat stress.” Heat stress can be recognised through the following symptoms:
There tends to be a scale of heat-related conditions that range from heat exhaustion to heat stress and the more dangerous heatstroke. Recognising the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stress, plus taking immediate remedial action can help to prevent the onset of heatstroke, incuding:
In slightly drastic terms, while heat stress will not kill you, heatstroke can. It is for this reason that it is so important to recognise the symptoms of heat stress before the more serious condition, heatstroke, can occur, and swift action taken to reduce the chances of heatstroke occurring. One of the major concerns and problems with heatstroke is that it is harder to treat than heat stress, which is why it is more dangerous.
Though not limited to the following, these are some of the more recognisable symptoms of the onset of heatstroke:
While the temperature in the workplace may be higher than you would like, there are still certain actions you can take to reduce the risk of suffering from heat stress. Clearly some of these measures may not be practical in every environment, and it can be difficult to mitigate against heat stress when wearing certain types of PPE, but a sensible and practical approach to working in hot temperatures can make a huge difference. For example:
The problem with wearing PPE in hot conditions is that it can be heavy and also prevent heat from evaporating from the skin. In an environment where light, loosely fitting clothes would otherwise be recommended, PPE is an extra layer of clothing that will trap body heat rather than allow you to cool down naturally. It is well worth referring to the HSE guidelines on using PPE at Work as this not only covers selecting PPE but also using the right PPE for the task at hand.
Here at Commodious we specialise in providing online courses that cover many aspects of Health & Safety. If you would like to learn more about any of these, please feel free to get in contact with us.